RICHMOND, Va. -- Thousands of lives have been lost to opioid addiction in Virginia. Since 2007, according to the Attorney General's Office, more than 8,000 Virginians have died due to opioid overdoses. That includes 5,000 people who overdosed on opioid prescription drugs.
Peer recovery specialist Lauren Hope, who uses her own lived experience with mental illness to help people in recovery, has seen the dark side of what people in addiction go through.
“I’ve worked in a hospital setting and ER. We’d see people a couple of hours after they overdose. So many people are in those ERs alone with no one to call. They don’t know where they’re going to sleep the next day. So, I take this as a moment to be with someone on the hardest day of their life,” Hope explained.
Because of her work in peer recovery, Hope has been watching closely as Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring made fighting opioids a top priority.
She is aware that Herring joined other Attorneys General from more than 40 states and sued several pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and distribute opioids.
“These drugs are very dangerous, but there is also hope in recovery. People are able to break free from addiction but it is something that requires treatment,” Herring said.
Herring is pushing for legislation to use funds that could come in from a more than $1 billion global settlement and other potential monies from similar lawsuits to create a special fund.
When the money comes in, he wants to steer it to Virginia communities.
“I think it’s important that any awards from these lawsuits and settlements go to really help the people right now who need it the most. Those who are battling addiction and struggling with breaking free from opioid addiction that these pharmaceutical companies and distributors helped to create,” Herring said.
Hope believes it’s a great start but wants to see the Herring and state lawmakers commit to allocating some funds to bolster the ranks of peer recovery specialists.
Those on the front lines dedicated to helping people successfully move from addiction to recovery.
“People who are on the front lines every day, seeing what the opioid crisis is doing to Virginians. They’ll tell you that people can’t sleep, can’t eat. They don’t have adequate housing," she said. "How do they rebuild their lives or live in recovery when their basic needs aren’t met? I want to see lawmakers see the value of peers. I hope that they ask them what are you seeing on the ground floor? I definitely feel, let's increase the peer workforce.”
Herring said this effort will require more peer recovery support.
As for the settlements reached so far, details about how much each state will receive, and how it’ll be distributed are still being negotiated.